Reaching Heights reaches fifth graders as it rolls out role models program

Photo by Krista Hawthorne

In keeping with its tradition of enhancing the experiences of students in the Cleveland Heights-University Heights schools, Reaching Heights has introduced "Reaching Heights Role Models." The new program is inspired by Ron Ferguson, director of the Achievement Gap Initiative at Harvard University, and a talk he gave at Cleveland's City Club in the fall of 2011.

Ferguson suggested that schools could  bridge the achievement gap by bringing adults who are satisfied with their lives into the classroom. Fifth grade is a particularly effective time. Different speakers could visit monthly or bi-monthly to talk about their personal and professional journeys, and expose students to "a whole menu of possible selves."

Reaching Heights is developing a cadre of community members to serve as speakers for the program. Initially, the group plans to start with one speaker each semester in each of the district's fifth grade classes and hopes to provide more frequent visitors as the program grows. The speakers are professionals (broadly defined) who will speak about the path that led them to their careers and life interests. Speakers will illuminate how their education, experiences, choices and challenges have been relevant to their lives. The hope is that children will better understand the importance of their education, the need for hard work, the possibility of overcoming obstacles, and the many options available to them if they work hard and have a vision. The ultimate goal of the program is to spark student curiosity and promote the value of life-long learning as it relates to their future careers and lives outside of work.

Already, studentss at Fairfax and Oxford have interacted with role models. After hearing David Jones, a local Tai Shin Doh (martial arts) instructor speak, one Fairfax fifth grader wrote, "This program was helpful because it gave me an idea of exactly how to prepare for my life." After hearing local entrepreneur Alvin Saafir speak, an Oxford student wrote, "This was helpful because he inspired me." Others wrote, "It helped me know what I need to do so I can have a better life," and, "I know what I want to be when I grow up and I know to do my homework." Not bad for just a one-hour investment of these speakers' time.

Want to get involved? You can speak at one or multiple schools, with a time commitment of a little more than an hour each visit. For more information, visit

Joan Spoerl

Joan Spoerl is the parent of a second grader at Fairfax Elementary, an early childhood educator and a proud resident of Cleveland Heights.

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Volume 6, Issue 2, Posted 1:48 PM, 01.31.2013